Stephen King goes batty about video games

Stephen King is "the man." He's one of my favorite authors and a very big reason why I'm a writer today. I've followed the ebb and flow of his career, from his meteoric rise (and eventually perpetual stay) on the New York Time's Best Seller list to the the mostly abysmal adaptations of his books to film. Anytime he talks, I tend to listen.

So you can imagine my intrigue when King, a man who has never tested the virtual waters (F13 doesn't count) with his magnificent worlds - how great would an MMO set in the world of The Dark Tower be? - voiced his opinion about the proposed Massachusetts bill to ban the sale of "violent" video games to anyone under the age of 18.

King lashed out by saying that such a ban would be undemocratic. "What makes me crazy is when politicians take it upon themselves to play surrogate parents." It's up to the parents to monitor their children's entertainment, not the government. Somewhere in the last 60 or so years we've lost sight of that.

Virtually every one of Stephen King's books deals with violent behavior, most times in very bizarre and macabre ways. The Master of Horror feels that games - much like books, movies, etc. - only reflect the violence that exists in our society. We're the most "civilized" country in the world, but also have the highest violent crime rates. Burying our head in the sand won't change it... or make it go away.

In his wonderfully salient diatribe, King points out that a video game rating system already exists. Banning "violent" games would be pointless. Mature rated games still fall into the hands of those who shouldn't have them. It's not the system that's failed... it's the people carrying out that system.

So what does any of this have to do with massive multiplayer online games? Glad you asked. Let's take Age of Conan as an example, not just because it's one of the most hotly anticipated MMOs going, but because it's the first "Mature" rated MMO. Out of the gate it can't even be looked at by someone under the age of 18. AoC will likely redefine what violence is in a video game. But it's more than violent, it's also laced with sex and drunkenness. All themes aimed at adults. Guess what? That's exactly the world Robert E. Howard created for his version - the original version - of Conan. This ain't your kids Saturday morning cartoon barbarian.

Now take World of Warcraft, the undisputed king of MMO-dom. Everyone plays it, including a hoary host of young children well under the age of 18. It may look like a cartoon, but it has violence. It has a lot of violence. Given that, would it too fall under the same Massachusetts ban? What about Disney's own Pirates of the Caribbean Online? It's aimed squarely at kids. But it has pirates, so you know it has to have violence.

My question is: who defines what "violent" means under these legislative bills?

Prohibition didn't work in the 1920's; the War on Drugs failed miserably... and banning video games because someone on Capital Hill - who doesn't "get" them in the first place - says they're too violent? Oh ya, that's going to work out well.
This article was originally published on Massively.